What They Do in the Dunes

Bruno Dumont, NYC, 9/30/14

Like Lartigue’s family, as seen in his early photos, the wealthy Van Peteghems in Bruno Dumont’s new comedyish (with many–often uncomfortable–lol moments) “Slack Bay” (“Ma Loute”), enjoy the pleasures pursued by the bourgeois at the French seaside in the beginning of the 20th century. And although it’s impossible to be certain (Lartigue’s work is MOS), it’s most unlikely that the great photographer’s family shared the Van Peteghem’s profound peculiarities.

It’s summer 1910 and the eccentric and inbred Van Peteghems have decamped from Tourcoing to their villa, the Typhonium (in the “Egyptian style. The Ptolemaic style.”), with its glorious view of Slack Bay. The film is an unusual period piece, and although it’s concerned with social class and human character, it does its work as an absurdist farce, full of slapstick–collapsing people and furniture–and elements of the grotesque.

André Van Peteghem (Fabrice Luchini, “as you’ve never seen him before,” great, as always), a hunched, grimacing founding father of the Ministry of Silly Walks, his wife (and first cousin, once removed), Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, perfectly tight and hysterically nervous) are settling in, airing out the manse, as their two slightly simple looking adolescent daughters and the girls’ beautiful, androgynous cousin Billie (Raph) run down to the bay.

The Brufords, a working class family living across the Slack River in St. Michel, are collecting les moules and other less savory staples of their diet. Mr. Bruford (Thierry La Vieville) aka “The Eternal” for his prowess in saving drowning sailors, and his oldest son, Ma Loute (Bradon La Vieville, who has the particular type of fascinating face favored by Dumont), ferry tourists across the river. They have a rowboat but primarily walk through waist-deep water carrying the holidaymakers.

Two police officers from Calais, owing their demeanor and wardrobe to Laurel and Hardy, arrive at the villa, looking for leads into the recent mysterious disappearances of several tourists. Roly-poly Inspector Machin (Didier Després), bursting out of his black bowler and three-piece suit, comments on the “fine view” and in his odd manner of speech and accent interrogates André, “You saw no one disappear yesterday?” His small, redheaded assistant, Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux), affects an air of extreme vigilance.

Aude (Juliette Binoche, outrageously operatic) Van Peteghem sister, cousin and Billie’s mother, joins her family. Her endless histrionics inform her facial expressions, vocal range and lavishly feathered and embroidered outfits. Christian, brother and cousin, with his own intellectual and emotional ticks, rounds out the group.

Billie goes to the bay solo and is ferried in Ma Loute’s arms and reaching shore, kisses him. Ma Loute is puzzled by Billie’s outfits which alternate between what is gender appropriate for males and females, but convincing himself that Billie is a girl, falls in love. His mistake leads to violence.

(Describing Billie and the young couple’s relationship, Dumont says, “I’ve always made movies to explore what I didn’t know, so I chose to set up what I’d call a romantic mystification to pose the question of gender, and to bring an extremely contemporary and ambiguous note to a period film.”)

Machin and Malfoy, without body parts (unlike the very different but equally strange “Li’l Quinquin” detectives, Captain Rogier Van der Weyden and Lieutenant Rudy Carpentier, from Dumont’s great four-part miniseries), are stymied, and confused by many people in the Slack Bay environs, who the junior officer calls “queer folk.” Machin states, “If we don’t find nothing, it’s a mystery.”

When Billie, Aude and Christian disappear and are found in the dunes beaten and bloody, with the aid of an inept bugler, the case reaches a conclusion but not a true resolution. The Van Peteghems and the rescuers celebrate at a garden party at the Typhonium. In his speech thanking Machin, who hovers way over the proceedings, inflated like a enormous helium balloon, André quotes Victor Hugo. Aude perpetually annoyed by her brother adds, “We all have our amazing references.”

Dumont’s new film shares its pale palette and slightly overexposed seaside light with “Li’l Quinquin” but unlike the miniseries, it has slack bits. But they’re more than balanced by the film’s underlying macabre joke: both families are cannibals, one literally (Mrs. Buford, a food pusher like most mothers, “Want some more foot?” also admonishes her children as they taunt the three grievously injured Van Peteghems, “Leave that meat be”); and metaphorically, the rich exploiting the working class (as André explains to Machin, intermarriage is “quite the done thing in the grand families of the Nord…creates industrial alliance…capitalism”). “Slack Bay” is also elevated by the exhilaration of watching crème de la crème of French actors devouring the exquisite scenery.

“Slack Bay” will open on Friday, April 21 at the newly renovated Quad Cinema (with a Q&A with Bruno Dumont moderated by Antonio Campos at the 6:55 pm show), and Film Society of Lincoln Center‘s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (with a Q&A with Bruno Dumont on Saturday, April 21 at the 6:35 pm show). The film will open in Los Angeles on Friday at Laemmle Monica 4-plex and expand to additional cities in the coming months

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15 1/6

Leo, in the Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/14/17

Leo’s scary episode of digestive distress which began on April 7 routed all of us to the vet in Hurley last Monday for an all-day visit that stretched into an anxious overnight at the Kingston emergency hospital. He began to recover in the late afternoon on Tuesday, Babette’s birthday. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.)

For months Leo has been slower and ocassionally wobbly. His rear legs have less strength for pushing up from the floor, sometimes move in improbable directions and can sink down like an improperly tightened tripod–he allows us to call him Leo Lowrider. But he still makes his way down the hill to soak in the Groverkill.

Maybe Leo is playing us a bit. His footing was sure and quick yesterday when he wanted his share of a banana. And when a groundhog seriously miscalculated and appeared on the lawn, Leo kept up with Ryder, striking fear in the rodent’s heart, as they chased it under the shed.

As I’ve written before, only the very young and very old observe birthdays that include fractions. Today Leo is 15 1/6. Happy birthday, dear Schmoo, and many more.

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Found (One 120 Chrome) and Hopefully Lost (the Man in the Photo): Archaeology in the Flat Files*

Bill O’Reilly on the set of Inside Edition, NYC, circa 1989

I photographed a much younger, pre-Factor Bill O’Reilly, on the set of Inside Edition, publicity images for the then-new show. He was more cooperative, had budgeted more time, than his co-hosts (a typically perky blonde woman and a handsome African American man). He seemed a bit arrogant, ambitious, and savvy about the value of good promotional images. After having the film processed, I gave all of the 120 chromes (minus any frames with blinks) to the show’s outside publicist, who had hired me. I assumed she gave them to Inside Edition employees.

A few weeks ago, looking in my flat files for 35mm b&w negatives from a shoot at PS1 in the 80s, I unearthed the Inside Edition clip test** of O’Reilly  (see upper right corner of the image for the tell-tale marks, including undeveloped area).

While I don’t lean in (and find the marketing, branding, co-opting of “feminism” repugnant), I certainly lean (way) left and have never watched O’Reilly’s top-rated Fox show. Most of what I know about his nightly performance, I learned from The Colbert Report and articles about the conservative provocateur’s endless, outrageous lies (some even about himself: having seen combat duty, being caught up in a riot in LA). And it would difficult to be a sentient being in our culture, and not know that O’Reilly is a “racist, and serial sexual harassment offender,” as Color of Change’s Arisha Michelle Hatch has accurately called him.

On April 1, in an article in the New York Times by Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt, it was revealed that $13 million has been paid over 15 years by either O’Reilly or his employer to five women, “in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him.”  Two other women have spoken about inappropriate behavior, a former Fox host and Dr. Wendy Walsh, who had been a frequent guest on O’Reilly’s show, who called the 21st Century Fox hotline to report her experience after the Times article was published.

The following Wednesday, while Trump was doing his fake news condemnation schtick, he praised Fox News and specifically Bill O’Reilly’s coverage of his current Susan Rice hallucination, and went on to defend the host, “I think he’s a person I know well–he is a good person…personally I think he shouldn’t have settled…Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

But advertisers have had a different opinion. Luxury cars makers were among the first to speed away and as of yesterday, 82+ companies had fled. On last night’s edition of the Factor, O’Reilly, whose ratings have been holding steady, announced he was going on vacation. With CEO of 21st Century Fox James Murdoch’s reported deep disapproval of his star, perhaps the trip will be permanent.

*Archaeology in the Terabyte Drive

** In the dark ages (sometime after glass plates, but pre-digital), a photographer would instruct the lab she used to clip and process a frame or two from specified rolls of transparency film. When the clip test (exposure) was perfect, the film was run normal. If it were too dark, the film was (as we said) pushed (developed longer) and too light, it could be pulled (but this never looked great).

UPDATE, 4/19: Bill O’Reilly’s two-decade run at Fox News, as the host of The O’Reilly Factor, ended today, with his firing.

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Rough Water and Other Early Signs of Spring (Stillwater Diary)

Esopus Creek, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/2/17

The Esopus, full and fast from snow melt and days of rain, falls from the Spillway, makes a left at Brown’s Pond and speeds to the swimming hole, passing bare sycamores with their feet underwater.

Early again this year, the false hellebores are all potential. It’s still possible that slender spikes holding lime star-shaped flowers will rise up from the elegant pleated leaves, unlike last year, and the year before.

False hellebores in the Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/8/17

Also potential, the seeds within the maple flowers, which will soon float to the ground, the rare few to beat tough odds to even become seedlings.

Maples, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/8/17

Leo and Ryder, happy outside in all seasons, now often ignore requests to stay on the trail  and, instead walk through the Groverkill, from the culvert to the gorge, pausing to sip, and soak. We pull on our muck boots and join them in the shallower areas.

Ryder drinking the Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/9/17

Leo in the Groverkill near the culvert, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/9/17

What remains of the snow, Stone Ridge, NY, 4/9/17

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No Satisfaction

John Schlesinger, NYC, 11/17/00

Legendary director John Schlesinger’s (“Billy Liar,” “Darling,” “Marathon Man,”  “Midnight Cowboy”) debut feature,”A Kind of Loving” (1962) is a clear-eyed and sympathetic view of a smart but immature young man, Vic Brown (Alan Bates, spot-on in his first starring role). He’s vaguely ambitious, and curious about the world, and wants more than his job as a factory draughtsman and his provincial northern town offer.

Although made contemporaneously and sharing the realism of gritty kitchen-sink dramas, “A Kind of Loving” departs from the British New Wave. It doesn’t foreground a political situation and Vic, in his coat and tie, is not an angry young man. He doesn’t chafe at still living at home, loves his family and hangs out with his mates as they ineptly pursue young women. At the time of its release, a critic called the film “a remarkable film about unremarkable people.”

After the joyous wedding of “our Christine” (the Brown family’s adored oldest child), Vic (Bates is dazzlingly blue-eyed, even in Denys Coop’s evocative b&w) spots lovely (and typically English peaches and cream) Ingrid Rothwell (June Ritchie) in the crowd gathered to watch the newlyweds leave the church. Noticing her again, working at the factory, he manages to join her on her commute home. To his surprise, she accepts his invitation to meet him at the movies.

Their first date, fueled by anticipation and fantasy, goes well. But it’s followed by physical and emotional fumbling. As Vic starts to withdraw, Ingrid, 19, and a product of her time, is desperate to reel him back in. She drops that her mother is away and asks him to visit. Too embarrassed to ask the female clerk at the pharmacy for condoms, Vic has to convince a modest and reluctant Ingrid to have sex.

After the strained encounter, Vic dumps Ingrid.  But, three weeks later, when she tells him she’s “in trouble,” he’s honorable and a hasty civil wedding takes place. Their honeymoon has moments of happiness but when they return to live with her bitter, endlessly meddling mother (Thora Hird, horrifyingly great), the gulf separating the couple widens.

Ingrid has a miscarriage and Mrs. Rothwell doesn’t summon her son-in-law from work to the hospital. Months pass and running into a ex-colleague from work, Vic goes on a pub crawl. When he returns home stumbling drunk, Ingrid retreats to her mother’s room. Vic vomits in the living room, as the older woman ferociously berates him, “You’re a filthy, disgusting pig!” He throw his things into a suitcase and bolts.

Vic discusses the difficulties in his marriage (and takes some responsibility for them) with Christine and his parents but no one supports his decision to separate from Ingrid. His father advises that Vic and Ingrid find their own place.

The couple’s shaky reconciliation is threatened as Ingrid rejects shabby flats but is bolstered as they visit the park where their romance began. Schlesinger characterized his film as “about human difficulties and the illusions of love. It is a film about compromise, which is what so many of my films are about.”*

“A Kind of Loving,” in a new restoration, will open on Friday, April 7 at Film Forum for a one-week run

*Quote is included in “From the Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger” by William J. Mann.

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Working to Bend the Arc*

NYC Equal Pay Day rally, City Hall, 4/4/17, front row, left to right, Council Member Margaret Chin, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, surrounded by union members and activists

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 49 years ago today in Memphis, where he’d gone to support the striking sanitation workers. Today on the damp steps of City Hall, at the 11th Annual NYC Equal Pay Day rally, all of us, women and men, supported each other, and represented all women, as we continue the fight for economic justice.

The rally was sponsored by PowHerNY, Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City Council Women’s Caucus co-chairs Laurie Cumbo and Helen Rosenthal, joining forces with CWA Local 1180 union members, and activists. Energized (and energizing) speeches from city and state officials, among others, punctuated by a chorus of “equal pay, no delay,” demanded stronger laws, fairer wages, better jobs, and inclusive workplaces, now. To remain on the current course, would allow the wage gap in New York state to stubbornly resist closing until 2049. For black and Hispanic women, equality would not arrive until 2124 and 2248, respectively.

Tomorrow, a significant step on the road to wage equality will be voted on by the City Council: legislation sponsored by Public Advocate James which would prohibit employers from asking about a prospective employee’s salary history. And Council Member Cumbo will introduce a bill that “will work to make the gender wage data for the public section and city contractors available and transparent. This is the first step to ensure that the Equal Pay Act of 1963” is being followed. As Arthur Cheliotes, president of CWA Local 1180, said at the rally, “Obviously, women have waited long enough…”

NYC Equal Pay Day rally, City Hall, 4/4/17, from left, Comptroller Scott Stringer, union members and activists

NYC Equal Pay Day Rally, City Hall, 4/4/17, union members and activists

* “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” was used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in both his speeches and his writing, first in a 1958 article in “The Gospel Messenger.” But he placed quotation marks around the phrase, most likely aware that the idea was originated by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and a prominent American Transcendentalist, in 1853.


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An Actress as Chameleon (But Never in the Girlfriend’s Skin)

Jennifer Jason Leigh, NYC, 3/9/01

There’s tension in the Therrian’s perfect Hollywood Hills Neutra house (please, let that real estate be mine in my next life). Sally (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an actress, is futilely fighting age-induced obsolescence, as Joe (Alan Cumming), her novelist husband, is enthusiastically embracing his expanding career (he’s set to direct his first film, adapting his latest book). And then their friends, with their issues, large and larger, arrive to celebrate the couple’s sixth anniversary.

“The Anniversary Party” (2001), a landmark independent film which Leigh co-directed and co-wrote with Alan Cumming, is a highlight of Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn’s series, “Jennifer Jason Leigh, Part One.” Also included is a selection of the great actress’s films which followed her breakout, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982), through 2001: “Delores Claiborne,” “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle,” “Single White Female,” “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “Existenz.”

Unlike Sally, enraged that her husband, with the power to jolt her career, has given his film’s lead role to her rival, Leigh is thriving in her work. At least six projects are set for release in 2017, including playing Lady Bird to Woody Harrelson’s LBJ, an appearance in the new “Twin Peaks,” and co-starring with Robert Pattison in the Safdie Brothers’ latest.

“Jennifer Jason Leigh, Part One” will open today at Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn and runs through Monday, May 8. “The Anniversary Party” screens on Wednesday, April 19.

“The Anniversary Party” was groundbreaking and exactly the type of film lauded and supported by IFC Rant. My cover/feature shoot with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming was so much fun, and frictionless–except for the stylist’s insistence (until I intervened) on a  strange bit of diaphanous red fabric, supposedly a blouse.

Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, NYC, 3/9/01

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